Spotlight: Artist Miguel Ángel Payano Jr. Investigates Materiality Through Color and Identity in a New Solo Show

"Miguel Ángel Payano Jr.: Limbguistics" is on view at Unit London through December 19.

Miguel Ángel Payano Jr. Courtesy of Unit London.

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What You Need to Know: On view through December 19th, Miguel Ángel Payno Jr. is the subject of a solo exhibition at Unit London, “Limbguistics.” Presented at the gallery’s Hannover Square space, the title of the show is an amalgamation of the terms “linguistics” and “limbs,” reflecting Payano’s personal artistic vernacular, which is informed by diverse cultures and art historical canons. The show features a total of 17 works, with 15 debuting to the public for the first time. This new body of work reflects the artist’s ongoing investigations into materiality, symbolism, and culture. Significantly, it also highlights the development of Payano’s own physicality, using casts of his own hand, coinciding with the revelation of a Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis in 2020.

About the Artist: Originally from and currently based in New York City, visual artist Miguel Ángel Payano Jr. (b. 1980) received his B.A. in Chinese language and studio art from Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 2003, and his M.F.A. from the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, plus a second M.F.A in studio art from Hunter College, New York, in 2008 and 2020 respectively.

Hailing from an Afro-Caribbean family, Payano relocated to China in his twenties, where he continues to travel frequently. Existing across different cultural contexts as well as languages is a primary source of inspiration in his practice, with mouths and figuration—both in his paintings and sculptural pieces—playing a central role in much of his work. Using a multidisciplinary approach to artmaking, Payano is able to synthesize influences from American, Caribbean, and Chinese cultures to explore ideas around identity, its creation, and class consciousness.

Why We Like It: At once playful and mysterious, Payano’s carefully constructed and composed work invites careful visual excavation, parsing through the juxtapositions and arrangements of symbols and motifs. Overflowing with vibrant colors, the objects become inextricable from bodily reference, most notably the confluence of peaches and mouths. In itself an intriguing motif, it also speaks to the myth of the Chinese myth of “Peaches of Immortality,” wherein a varietal of peach that fruits once every 3,000 years bestows wisdom and long life to the person who eats it. The inclusion of monkeys too evokes the long and storied symbolism of the primate in Chinese culture. The influences of Payano’s life and lived experience can be explored through his works, and ultimately new revelations and ideas—personal and universal—can be drawn from exploring his use of a deeply personal artistic vernacular, or “limbguistics.”

See inside the exhibition below.

Installation view of “Miguel Ángel Payano Jr: Limbguistics” (2023). Courtesy of Unit London.

Installation view of “Miguel Ángel Payano Jr: Limbguistics” (2023). Courtesy of Unit London.

Installation view of “Miguel Ángel Payano Jr: Limbguistics” (2023). Courtesy of Unit London.

Installation view of “Miguel Ángel Payano Jr: Limbguistics” (2023). Courtesy of Unit London.

Miguel Ángel Payano Jr: Limbguistics” is on view at Unit London, Hanover Square, through December 19, 2023.

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